Techniques

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Welcome to the next technique post for our summer HAP-Along! This is a trick that works in lots of other places too – picking up stitches is a common task and very straightforward.

The first thing to get out of the way is the terminology: there is, as far as anyone can tell, no difference between “pick up” and “pick up and knit”. Patterns use both expressions to mean exactly the same thing, and So whichever words are used, this procedure is what is meant.

Holding the work in your left hand and the needle in your right, poke the needle through the edge of the work where you want to make the new stitch, knitwise. “Knitwise” means that the needle is going from front to back, and from left to right, exactly like a knit stitch.

Since we’re using the loopy edge that you get from the yarn over increase, our needle is going through one of those loops, but if your edge is different, the path of the needle remains the same: front to back, and left to right.

Wrap the yarn around the tip of the needle…

… and pull the loop back to the front of the work.

Then simply repeat this procedure until you’ve amassed all the stitches you need, gaining new stitches one at a time. If you’re going round a corner, you’ll probably need to pick up a couple extra to mitre around the bend. And here’s our little garter stitch square with stitches picked neatly up from two sides, ready to go round the next corner and head for the other two sides:

It’s a nifty technique, and one that you’ll use for button bands and collars over and over again. Knitting a hap with a garter stitch centre is the easy way to start picking up stitches. If you’re picking up from stocking stitch or another stitch pattern, there’s a wee bit more to consider, but we’ll come back to that in another post.

Things are really hotting up over in the Ravelry HAP-Along thread, and we’ve got a tag for your Ravelry project pages: tagging with TIKHAPALONG will make it much easier to follow each other’s progress! See you over there!

There’s a lot of ways of increasing a stitch when you’re knitting. Different methods have different effects on the fabric you’re producing, and your choice depends on the results you want and on your own personal choice.

This post is about one way of increasing right at the very edge of a row when you’ll be picking up stitches from the edge later on. It’s a traditional Shetland technique and Gudrun Johnston uses it in her Hansel.

It involves making a yarn over right at the very start of the row, and it gives a set of little loops that are very easy to pick up from. What’s more, it gives a very elastic edging, which is what you want in a stretchy squishy hap shawl. You can see the edge it gives in the picture above: the triangle starts at the bottom right and grows with those loops on each edge. What’s more, it’s uninterrupted garter stitch right to the edge, with no increase line a few stitches in.

You work it right at the beginning of a row, before you knit the first stitch. Put the right hand needle behind the working yarn…

…and making sure that you have a strand of yarn crossing the right hand needle, put the tip into the first stitch of the row.

Wrap the yarn around the tip of the right hand needle and work the stitch as usual.

The yarn over will make a loop of yarn around the needle to the right of that first knit stitch. That loop is your increase.

You want your edge to be nicely stretchy but not sloppy, so when you come to the end of the row and it’s time to work the yarn over that started the previous row, work its back leg:

And that’s it – a stretchy edge with a set of loops just begging to be picked up and knit as a border, as you can see in the very first picture. If you’re not going to pick up from it, though, then it’s probably not the best increase, and that loopy border wouldn’t be much fun to seam. It’s certainly not the only way of doing these increases – Jared Flood uses knit-front-and-back in his Tweed baby blanket. It’s fun to work, though, and you could substitue

Very soon, we’ll be blogging here about how to pick up stitches for the shawl border. But we don’t need to worry about that yet – knitting the centre will take a wee while!

Part of the fun of a KAL is finding out new ways of doing things. Our HapKAL means that we’re all hearing about different techniques, because there’s lots of different patterns being used. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll feature picture tutorials for several of the techniques involved, and today’s the first of these.

Hap patterns often have the centre made on the bias, starting with a very tiny number of stitches in one corner, increasing until the full width of the diagonal is reached, and then decreasing back down to the opposite corner. This gives a very elastic and stretchy fabric for snuggling into. And the smallest number you can start with is just one. So that’s what we’re going to show you here: how to cast on only stitch and increase from it.

The picture up above shows where to start: make a slip knot and pop it onto the left hand needle, and take up the other needle in your right hand, just as if you were going to knit.

Put the tip of the right hand needle into the single loop, again just like a knit stitch.

Wrap the yarn around the tip of the right hand needle (again, just like a knit stitch):

Pull a new loop of yarn out of the stitch on the left hand needle (yes, just like when you’re half way through a knit stitch!). But then, don’t let the old stitch drop the left hand needle. You want to keep it on the needle because you’re not finished with it yet.

Move the tip of the right hand needle towards the back of the stitch on the left. You’ll see a little gap between the back leg of that stitch and the needle.

Poke the tip of your right hand needle into that gap…

…and wrap the yarn around the tip of the right hand needle, pulling a new stitch out in the usual way.

And there you are – you’ve made two stitches from a cast on of just one. When you increase by just one stitch at the beginning of every row, you end up with a right-angled triangle, so your increase rate is bang on from the very first row.

The next thing is to work those increases on subsequent rows. There’s more than one way of doing that, and there’s advantages and disadvantages to all of them. You’ll find details of one of them, with yarn overs right at the beginning of the row, in our next blog post.

Of course, if you’ve got a technique question that we can help you with, leave a comment below and we’ll do out best to help!

Few things will annoy you more about a finished piece of knitting than a cast off that’s too tight. In almost all cases, you want an edge that stretches as much as the knitted fabric below it, and sometimes that doesn’t happen.

There’s a few ways of avoiding that irksome tight edge. We’ve talked about Elizabeth Zimmermann’s sewn bind off before, but that requires a yarn needle threaded with enough yarn to finish the cast off. If you’re working a long cast off (like for the Daybreak in the picture above), “enough yarn” is going to be a very long length indeed. It’ll get tangled and twisted and cause just as much annoyance. Even the cast off of a top-down baby jumper would need an unmanageable length of yarn.

Here’s a startlingly simple solution: use a larger needle to work the cast off. How much larger is up to you – try one size larger and see how you like the result. If you don’t, go bigger. And if you’re worried about your stitches being loose and straggly, then there’s a handy tip that Estonian lace knitters sometimes use: work the cast off with the yarn held double, so every stitch of the edge has a little more bulk. It gives a lovely firm edge!

And speaking of Daybreak, watch this space for some Knit-Along news next week…!

Weaving in ends is one of the final stages of a project, and despite our best efforts (splicing when adding a new ball, working seamlessly and so on), there’s always some to do.

The Garter Yoke Baby Cardi (a hugely popular and dotey free pattern on Ravelry) is a case in point. It’s a delight to work in sportweight yarn (this one’s in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino), made from the top down with the option of a neat i-cord edging. It’s quick and it’s easily customisable.

But there’s no denying it: that’s a lot of ends.

It’s a good idea to leave your ends long while you wash and block and snip them off only at the end. But then it’s easy to get confused about forget which ones you’ve woven in and which you haven’t, and you can easily end up peering crossly at your work trying to decide. So here’s a handy trick to speed things along: as you finish weaving in a strand, just tie a knot in it.

Then it’s easy to run your fingers down the length of any end and spot if you still need to deal with it. It’ll keep you a little further away from your wits’ end!

Buttonholed!

We get a lot of questions at the counter about the best way to make buttonholes. The answer, as usual, is “It depends” – on who you’re making the garment for, on the size of the button, on how wide your buttonband is. For a lot of purposes, the yarn-over buttonhole works a treat, so here’s a tutorial.

Every beginner knitter is familiar with the notion that if you put the yarn over the needle on one row and then knit the resultant loop on the next row, you end up with a hole. Like most so-called “mistakes”, this turns out to be very useful. You can make a buttonhole with it.

The first step, when you come to where you want your buttonhole to be, is simply to make a yarn over, by bringing the yarn to the front between the needles, and then backwards over the right hand needle. (And that’s all a yarn over is: just the action of putting the yarn round the right hand needle.)

The next step is to knit the next two stitches together, as shown in the picture: put the tip of your right hand needle through two stitches instead of just one, and knit them together.

And that’s it. You’ve just made a hole in your work with the yarn over, and you’ve compensated for that increase by decreasing a stitch immediately after by knitting two together.

And what’s more, you’ve just made the teeniest bit of lace. That’s all lace is: yarn overs and decreases paired with each other. And if you put a line of these holes in a row, you end up with a line of eyelets for tying ribbon through. Putting holes in your knitting on purpose is a very satisfying activity, and it all begins with a yarn over and a decrease!

We’ve talked about blocking techniques before, and about how magically it transforms your hunched and lumpy work into something smooth and beautifully professional, with practically no effort at all.

That neat and orderly finish is what you want for knitted and crocheted gifts, and since time is getting on and a lot of hats are being made for Christmas, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about how to block them.

The trouble with hats, put simply, is that they’re very rarely flat. You can’t pin just them out like a scarf or a shawl. But help’s at hand, and the picture below shows all you need.

After you’ve soaked your hat well and blotted out most of the moisture in a towel, take a moment to consider: is it flat, like a beret or a tam, or is it round like a beanie? If it’s flat, like this wonderful Neep Heid by Kate Davies, simply pop a plate inside it, one large enough to smooth out the knitting. Since our Neep Heid is adult-sized, we used a dinner plate, but smaller hats would need smaller plates. Let the hat dry, and slip the plate out.

If your hat is curved, like our own Thistle pattern, then you need the balloon. Soak your hat and blot it as before, and then blow up the balloon to the size you need (smaller for a child, larger for an adult. Crown it with the uniformly damp hat.

Wait for it to dry completely and remove the balloon (it can then find a deserving home!).

Ta da! Perfectly blocked hats, with even stitches, smooth fabric and impressed recipients. And another thing crossed off the To Do list!

That’s Jacqui’s latest lace shawl, Loren by Gudrun Johnston. It’s made from Malabrigo Baby Silkpaca laceweight in Teal Feather, and as you’d expect from the designer, it’s constructed using traditional Shetland techniques.

Hand-dyed yarns such as Malabrigo can vary quite a bit from dyelot to dyelot, so it’s even more vital than usual to make sure you’ve got enough to finish your project. But it happens to all of us: half a ball of one dyelot and two thirds of a second, languishing in the stash wondering if they’ll ever get another chance to shine. This was Jacqui’s dilemma. Or maybe there’s only ten balls of one dyelot left in stock and you need twelve. What to do?

Just working till one dyelot runs out and then switching to the other risks putting the colour change bang in the middle of your work, across your tummy or halfway up your arm. With a bit of cunning, though, it’s possible to place the switch so it looks entirely planned, or even to make it invisible.

The trick is to put the switch over at a point where there’s another change going on. In Jacqui’s Loren, you notice the pattern difference between the border and the centre section: both the direction of the work and the stitch pattern vary. So the variation in colour looks entirely planned, as indeed it was.

If you want to hide the changeover, then welts and cuffs of jumpers, or the ribbing sections of hats, and borders of all sorts work well. And no-one need ever know. The observer’s eye will be fooled by the difference in stitch pattern and hardly register the colour change at all.

Of course another reason to talk about this beautiful pattern is our excitement about the upcoming weekend: Gudrun Johnston’s lace workshop is on Saturday morning, with Mary Jane Mucklestone’s colourwork one in the afternoon. We can’t wait!

Helpful

Last Tuesday, we showed you Lisa’s Watershed (it’s on display in the shop, and it’s getting a lot of attention, probably because it’s simply ideal for this lovely weather). Lisa made a number of modifications which are detailed on her project page, so it’s perfect for showing you one of Ravelry’s very best features: how to find helpful projects. This will save you more time and money than you can imagine!

We’ll start out at the pattern page (this one here), which shows that there are currently 624 Watershed projects. You can view them all by clicking on the “projects” tab, where the big pink arrow is pointing:

That’s quite a number to sift through looking for the useful ones, but the good news is that it’s easy to find them.

This time, the big pink arrow is showing you where you’ll find a drop down menu at the top left hand corner of the pattern page. Clicking on it brings up a number of choices.

That “helpful notes (164 projects)” is the option we’re interested in. It’s the set of projects with notes that other people have found useful. When you choose that option, you’re brought to a page with only those projects, which you can investigate at your leisure. So instead of reading through all 624 projects, you can select only the ones most likely to be useful. That’s where the time saving comes in.

And when you’ve found a set of project notes useful, you’ve got the chance to improve the selection even more. Right down at the bottom of the notes, you’ll find a little button to press, beside the question “are these notes helpful?”. Click that button if you’ve been helped, and Ravelry’s service will get a little better!

There’s also a visual symbol of helpfulness, and the arrow’s pointing at it here:

That little lifebuoy signals a “helpful” vote, and when you’re browsing project pages, it’s a handy thing to watch out for.

There’s another sort of very useful information that you can glean from a pattern page: for a given pattern, how many completed projects a pattern it has. If you look back at the third screenshot above, you’ll see that “finished” is one of the choices in the dropdown menu.

A large proportion of finished projects is a sure sign of a successful pattern, and the reverse is also true. If you come across a pattern with lots and lots of started projects but very few successfully completed ones, then maybe it’s a good one to steer clear of. And between the cost of the pattern and the cost of the yarn, that can save you a lot of money – not to mention both irritation and chocolate!

What a snug little centre that crochet circle has! It’s far tighter than you could ever get by making the familiar few chain and slipstitching to the first of them, and sometimes you want the gap in the middle of your circle or square just to disappear. It’s called a Magic Circle, and here’s how you do it.

As well as beginning squares and circles, it’s also used as the very beginning of some of AoibheNí‘s beautiful Tunisian lace shawls, like Bel and Venus, so it’s a very versatile technique.

So, to start, just wind a loop of yarn around your finger…

…and slip the hook in under the loop, between the yarn and your finger.

Wrap the yarn around the hook, and bring the ensuing loop back towards you out of the loop.

Wrap the yarn around the hook once more, and pull a second loop through the first.

Once you’ve made this stitch, you’re ready to work whatever your pattern tells you for your first round, using the long end of the yarn (the one that goes to the ball). You’ll notice that the original loop that you wound round your finger is still all loose and floppy; this is entirely as intended, and it’s what you work your first round into.

This picture shows the work a little later – we’ve worked a series of double crochet stitches into the loop, which is still all floppy. You can see its single strand just below and to the left of the live stitch.

Now the Magic happens. Take a firm hold of the short end of the yarn in one hand, and hold the live stitch that’s on the hook with the other. And pull…!

Because you made your stitches around the strand of yarn, it’ll pull up through them, turning your loose association of stitches into a firm little circle!

And the result is what you can see in the top picture. Until you finish off the yarn, the circle might try to relax, but just give it a wee tug and it’ll smarten up promptly if needed.

Speaking of AoibheNí’s amazing work, we’re delighted to announce another date for her inspiring Tunisian lace workshop, on Saturday September 21st. This full-day workshop is bound to fill up as fast as ever, so you can book online at this link.

Today’s the first day of summer, so may we wish you a happy, sunny, craft-filled one!

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